Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram announced a change in policy imposing age and content restrictions for firearms related material. This was done mostly in response to a VentureBeat story and pressure from anti-gun groups in which they allege that Facebook is a hotbed of illegal gun sale activity. According to the article:
“The illegal transactions then take place in diners, dark parking lots, and isolated country roads — away from the prying eyes of the feds and local police…”
The only problems are that these transactions are not illegal, no one is actually buying or selling guns on Facebook, nor do they provide an actual example of one illegal gun sale in a diner, dark parking lot, or on an isolated country road.
Legitimate face-to-face firearms transactions between law abiding adults in the same state have been upheld time and again by the courts as legal commerce. Those who would engage in illegal activity would do so if Facebook had never come into existence. And interstate sales, even if facilitated on the internet, are subject to the same rules one would experience at a retail gun store. The buyer must complete the proper paperwork and undergo a background check.
While it seems elementary to most of us, we seem to have to keep reminding the anti-gun crowd that outlaws do not abide by the law.
[sharequote align="center"]We seem to have to keep reminding the anti-gun crowd that outlaws do not abide by the law.[/sharequote]
Anti-gunners however do not care about pesky things like facts and details. After all, they get far more fear mongering miles accusing Facebook and their subsidiary Instagram of being “unregulated online arms bazaars…”
In fact, their entire report rests on the merits of one incident where a 15-year-old Kentucky high school student was arrested at school with a gun he purchased from someone he met on Facebook. The article then goes on to cite anecdotal Facebook postings in which no activity was confirmed, as additional proof of widespread illegal gun trafficking on social media.
In reality, they manufactured a crisis to support a political agenda, and proposed solutions to a non-problem. And if you are going to do that, who better to enlist than Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns? Billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun grabbing front groups.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
The two groups demanded that Facebook and Instagram “get out of the gun business.” A Change.org petition chock full of poor information, that seeks to demonize Facebook and Instagram has been gaining steam. It currently has over 75,000 signatures, and far left comedienne Sarah Silverman has voiced her support. Although, I have no idea why Sarah Silverman thinks anyone would care what she has to say on this or any other issue.
According to Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, “Anybody can go to Facebook and Instagram and buy a gun online. We’re asking them to review their policies."
Ms. Lamb goes on to assert that Facebook “facilitates the sale of guns in the U.S...” Ms. Lamb chooses to ignore that one cannot conduct an online purchase of anything on Facebook or Instagram. They are not commerce sites and have no function for users to pay or receive payment for anything, let alone guns, so her statement is flawed in its entirety.
Many experts however disagree with VentureBeat and the Bloomberg backed groups’ conclusions.
Adam Dobrin Ph.D, a criminology professor who has consulted with social media and online safety companies and is a renowned national expert on crime data had this to say:
“The movement by anti-gun organizations such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action to curtail online entities such as Facebook and Instragram does not pass the smell test. As Facebook has noted, it is not a virtual marketplace, so it has no dedicated sales area in which to curtail any activity. This is akin to holding ATT, Verizon, or Sprint responsible for discussions held on their communication networks, or Starbucks for what is discussed at their tables. Sales between people across state lines currently need to go through a federally licensed dealer to be legal, and these will include a background check. Criminals will evade laws regardless of whether the technology is online, print newspaper ads, telephone, or face-to-face. Most criminals who use guns do not purchase them from federally licensed dealers anyway.”
As a veteran of online security and a former member of the NYPD, I have to concur with Dr. Dobrin.
Facebook has no marketplace to police. And policing content for photos and posts that might be used to facilitate an illegal transaction is daunting. Business Insider reported that Facebook users upload 350,000,000 photos each day.
Most importantly, there is no proof that illegal gun sales are problematic for Facebook. As of January 2014, Facebook had 1.3 Billion monthly users, yet VentureBeat and anti-gun groups were only able to find one incident and a few posts to support their theory. One incident and a few posts do not a problem make in a user community of that size.
In this Jan. 16, 2013 file photo, assault weapons and hand guns are seen for sale at Capitol City Arms Supply in Springfield, Ill. Credit: AP
And a BATFE agent speculating about what could happen is just that, baseless speculation. Deploying security resources to search for gun photos when other threats like sexual predators and child pornography are far more prevalent is an irresponsible use of Facebook’s time and effort. As for the age restrictions on content, for the last 15 years, age verification has been shown time and again to be completely ineffective.
Facebook and Instagram’s policy changes are symbolic at best, and will do nothing to actually curb real world gun crime. Like all knee jerk anti-gun measures, the anti-gunners have misplaced blame and are now gloating over what amounts to nothing more than a PR win. But for whom? With millions upon millions of gun owners and hunters belonging to various Facebook groups, it might have been shortsighted of the social media giant to succumb to the heavy handed fear tactics of two small and increasingly irrelevant groups.
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